|Jordan's king warns Israel to negotiate, not dictate
|Monarch says unilateral setting of borders would spark 'insecurity'
Jordan's King Abdullah II began a visit to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday with a warning that Israel's plan to unilaterally draw its final borders would harm bilateral relations, as Fatah and Hamas agreed to halt their clashes. Under a deal mediated by Egyptian diplomats, the Palestinian government agreed to withdraw a special security unit from public areas of Gaza to contain tensions.
Speaking on the eve of his talks with Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert, Abdullah said his country's ties with Israel could be harmed if the Jewish state reshaped the occupied West Bank without Palestinian agreement.
"A unilateral step by Israel would raise question marks and a sense of insecurity not only among the Palestinians, but among all the partners of peace in the region," he said.
"The ability to improve relations between us and Israel could also be damaged by this unilateral move."
Israel plans to draw final borders by 2010 if peace negotiations with Palestinians remain frozen. The plan involves uprooting remote Jewish settlements in the West Bank while strengthening larger enclaves behind a fortified border.
In a follow-up speech in Jordan, the king said his country would never be a substitute Palestinian homeland.
"If there is anyone who believes that it is possible to settle the Palestinian issue at the expense of Jordan, he should know that Jordan will never be a substitute homeland for anybody," the king said. "The Palestinians' homeland and their state should be on Palestinian soil, and nowhere else."
Later, Jordan's monarch met with the Saudi King Abdullah.
The two leaders were to discuss "the situation in the Palestinian territories, and Arab and international efforts exerted to resume Palestinian-Israeli negotiations," a source in the Jordanian delegation said.
In addition to Arab attempts to head of Olmert's unilateral plan, Abbas gave the government until the end of the week to accept a manifesto calling for a Palestinian state that implicitly recognizes Israel or face a referendum on the issue.
"We are now working on the decree [allowing the referendum] and this will take a little time to complete," Abbas said after talks with US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch.
"There will be an announcement at the opportune moment in one or two days' time" on the exact date, he added.
The president would issue a decree on Saturday, setting the stage for the referendum, if Hamas still refused to back the proposal, Abbas' spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeina, said.
Jordan's Abdullah appeared prepared to champion the idea of a referendum as a way of unifying the Palestinians.
"In my opinion the referendum is a good opportunity to reach a consensus on their side, because ultimately we need Palestinian unity in order to promote peace initiatives," said.
Abbas' determination to push ahead with the vote came despite Premier Ismail Haniyya's calls for factions to resolve their differences in negotiations rather than via a referendum.
Haniyya said any suggestion that the West Bank and Gaza could slide into civil war without a rapid resolution to the divisions was wide of the mark.
"There will be no civil war," Haniyya told reporters in Gaza. "Palestinian blood is a red line that cannot be crossed.
"Dialogue should continue and more time should be devoted until we reach common ground. I feel there is a positive atmosphere between the factions to come to a conclusion," Haniyya added.
After a meeting in the impoverished Gaza Strip brokered by Egyptian officials, Fatah and Hamas leaders urged calm.
"We order men from Fatah and Hamas to respect the holiness of Palestinian blood," said Khalil al-Hayya, a Hamas leader.
"They are going to be in places away from the public. They are not going to be visible to people," government spokesman Ghazi Hamad said after Wednesday's meeting.
Under the arrangement, the militia is to be folded into the official Palestinian police force, he said.Hamas late last month ordered the 3,000-strong force to pull back, but days later members of the unit fanned out again.
The Daily Star